Moderated by Dark Horse marketing's Jeremy Atkins, Saturday's Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics panel at New York Comic Con included Scott Allie (Buffy editor and Dark Horse's freshly minted editor-in-chief), Rebekah Isaacs (Angel and Faith artist), and Jane Espenson (creator of the web series Husbands and Buffy vet), and Sierra Hahn (editor).
Allie started with a story (after teasing there may be special guests arriving later) — when Season Eight started, comic retailers were excitedly reporting about more women in their stores. "The thing that's amazing to me today is seeing the lines for the women's bathroom at conventions. Who would have thought? At my first convention in a hotel basement in Indiana, my mom had free reign of the bathroom!"The panel officially kicked off with a sneak peek at an upcoming Angel and Faith cover by Steve Morris, featuring a young Giles and Ethan conjuring a demon. Allie explained, "we've been trying to keep secrets, but we want you to know Igon is coming." Issacs added that she is glad he's showing this because otherwise she was going to have to confess she may have recently blabbed about it a bit. He continued, saying that seeing Isaacs design the demons and monsters is a highlight of working on the books.
Continuing with the sneak peeks, the audience was treated to a look at the covers of the third volume of Angel and Faith, an upcoming issue of Spike, a Willow cover by David Mack, a Buffy cover by Georges Jeanty teasing Illyria, and the cover of the upcoming Buffyverse sampler.
When the crowd exploded in applause at the Spike cover, Allie reminds the audience that the book just launched last month. Writer Victor Gischler is on board, and Allie referenced that bringing in new writers like they did with Christos Gage on Season Nine, as well as the writers summit they participated in has him really excited for Season Ten.David Mack's Willow cover had her appearing powerful yet still ethereal, and Allie described the book as centering on Willow's efforts to bring magic back into Buffy's world in a way that will affect the remainder of Season Nine and spilling into Season Ten.
The crowd reaction to the cover featuring Illyria was as fervent as would be expected, and Allie assured us that Joss Whedon and artist Jeanty are having a great time with her character. More information about the Buffyverse sampler was shared as well — coming out in January 2013, it will feature a single issue each of Buffy, Angel and Faith, Spike and Willow — for just $4.99, a great way to try out the Buffy books you may not have tried before as well as an introduction to the newest titles joining the family.
Writer Jane Espenson just recently came back to the book, and has made news with her introduction of the character Billy, a young gay man who has chosen to be a slayer. She described him as "a 16 year old kid, feeling like an outcast, something different about him, and he becomes a slayer not as a calling but out of necessity." Espenson acknowledges some negative reaction she has read online from fans upset that the point of Buffy is female empowerment, but pointed out that over the years since she started writing for the show and the earlier seasons of the comic series that so many young men say to her what female fans say as well — Buffy got me through the hell of high school, as well as pointing out that the Logo network replays the series, and there's a need for the series to remain diverse. "It's not a usurping, as each group gains acceptance, they should reach out their hand and help the next group through," stated Espenson to a very warm audience reaction.When asked if she thought she would still be writing Buffy this many years later, she replied dryly, "No, I thought I'd be writing fanfic." At the end of the series, the writers discussed savoring every bit, "but 17 years later we realize when high school stops being hell, that's when this won't be relevant anymore."
On the note of the timelessness of Buffy, Isaacs admitted to starting the show fairly recently, but the aspect of the series that stick with her are the friendships, because these characters "value who they are beneath the veneer, and it feels like they're our friends too."
Espenson shared that the first episode she saw was "The Pack," and retold the way she felt when she watched — but since she was a comedy writer at the time writing for Ellen, was told she couldn't do it. Feeling so strongly about wanting to work on the show, she wrote an NYPD Blue episode to have an hour episode writing sample, and aggressively pursued the opportunity to work with Whedon. Even after joining as a writer, she "remained a fan," waiting for the next script ideas as excitedly as she'd been waiting to watch episodes before.Editor Sierra Hahn started watching the show in high school, fell in love with the friendship dynamic, and finds that the stories are still relevant, saying that it "speaks to the writing in that world." Allie admitted that when Buffy was available to Dark Horse, he wanted it based on the fact it had "vampire" in the title. He started reading scripts before episodes would air (late in season two) and stated that it "remains [his] favorite season, favorite episodes are later," but as a season that will always be his favorite and that he watches the entire series about once a year. Although that's a big time commitment, he finds that he "loves the characters more over time. . . and episodes like "Hush" or "The Body" impress me more over time."
On the topic of the previously mentioned writers summit, Allie explained that it was productive as well as felt like it was a way for Whedon to collect his friends in one place and spend a day just talking Buffy. Espenson compared the group to a family, saying that writing for tv is very collaborative and this had that same feeling. Hahn admitted that she never imagined while watching the show as a high schooler that she would find herself in Joss Whedon's living room singing karaoke and playing with lightsabers, but also that the writers summit was "valuable as an editor to spend that time and share ideas."Espenson added, "I like that we are telling stories that fit the comic form, [Whedon] understands genres, for example enormous Dawn was something we could never do on tv but works for the comic genre. . . . I wrote an unaired tiny Buffy for the animated show, and it fit the animated medium." This writers summit was clearly a bonding experience for these writers and the result for us as fans is a lot of great stories coming to us in all the Buffyverse books.
As moderator Atkins started Q&A time, the aisles flooded with fans. The first fan up to the microphone asked what the panel guests would use to introduce someone to the series, and Isaacs references "Hush" as an episode that doesn't completely stand alone, but also doesn't require back story to enjoy. Espenson mentioned that her Husbands co-creator Bradley Bell fell into a marathon midway through and was intrigued. As an aside, Allie promoted that on October 24, Dark Horse will debut a Husbands comic that will also be found on the show's site.The next fan asked the panel if they started the series now, although it is in many ways timeless, how would it be different? Espenson answered that it is really a question to be asked of Whedon, but for starters there would probably be a gay slayer from the start, the show would be on cable and able to have amazing effects, "but the emotions are so timeless, you wouldn't have to change a lot."
When asked to list their least favorite shows, Espenson replied "the thing everyone would say would be 'Doublemeat Palace,' but I wrote that!" Allie responded that his least favorite aren't specific, but that some episodes don't have the lasting impression that the favorites do.
Just as Issacs was saying "what's the one with the lizards and the swim team?" the back door of the room opened — and Nicholas Brendon, who played fan-favorite Xander Harris on the Buffy television series, entered the room.When asked the same question, he asked "did anyone say 'Go Fish'?" Speaking to Isaacs later, she stated that it was not planned and that the timing of his arrival could not have worked out any more perfectly.
When asked if 15 or so years later did he expect to be appearing at conventions still talking about Buffy, he replied that "people are more excited now than before. It's built momentum, we should thank Jane, without her words I wouldn't be here right now."
A boy introduces himself as 14 years old and having loved the show while he was growing up, asking the panel what has been their favorite show to write or act? Espenson named "Superstar" — "that show was just fun to write and sit down to the keyboard each day."
Brendon named "Once More with Feeling" and "Conversations with Dead People," correcting himself — "Oh wait, I wasn't in that. I went to Cabo. And I enjoyed playing Renfield, such a departure and challenge since he spoke more quickly. I'm so fortunate that it's hard to pick."As another fan asked what made working on Buffy so meaningful, Espenson said that in anything money, people, or product make it good — "Buffy is all three... it gave my life meaning." Allie claimed that although he sort of stumbled into the world, "What I understand about writing has come from Jane and Joss and that writers summit, telling great genre stories."
There's no shortage of death in these stories, and a fan asked if there any characters that have died that may potentially come back. Explaining that it's a huge cast already, it's a challenge to add more in. Espenson interrupts Allie to point out that Jonathan could come back, because he's small! Allie asked the audience who they'd like to see come back and there are cries of Anya! Tara! Doyle! Acknowledging the most calls for Anya, Allie muses that would be a bit awkward for Dawn and Xander.While Buffy's television series certainly portrayed her as a strong female character, a fan points out that her costuming still pandered to her gender, and asked how much thought into the comics and the way the women are drawn? Isaacs answered "We are taking a more utilitarian style... Georges puts a lot of thought to it, but as a female its easy for me, I just think about what I would wear." According to Allie, Whedon has referred artists to the Anthropologie catalog for fashion suggestions.
A fan asked the panel to share what they find to be the most emotional episode. Running low on time, only Espenson had time to answer, but explains that it was "Oddly 'Doublemeat Palace.' To the first draft, Joss said hrm, must have been a miscommunication, and I had to rewrite over a weekend, rereading the script he didn't like to avoid it being the same, bringing up a lot of emotions for me."
There's so much happening currently in the Buffyverse, and so much more to look forward to for established fans and new fans looking for an accessible way in. Keep your eyes peeled for the Buffy sampler in January 2013, alongside Dark Horse's bustling line of Buffyverse titles.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!